A Stroll Among The Pioneer Graves - Chapter 17


We conclude our look at the stories of pioneers who are buried in Rim Country graves by returning to our place of beginning, the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. Here is the place that calls forth many emotions and deeper thoughts than a casual visit to town.

Some of those "deeper thoughts" are gathered up in a series of common words. For instance, beauty. have been here in the heat of summer when it looked quite barren, but in springtime it can be breathtaking.


Ruth Brown stands by the entrance to the Payson Pioneer Cemetery, circa 1959.

This cemetery is filled with living flowers: Indian paintbrush, yellow "whatever," fleabane, lupine. There are a few cultivated flowers, but mostly wild flowers.
The cemetery is on a hillside, so that "on a clear day, you can see forever."

The big oak and juniper trees remind us this had once been a grove. We cannot wander here without feeling an appreciation for the Womans Club of Payson, and the tender care they have given to this place over the decades.

Maintaining the area, placing brass markers on graves where no family could provide them, the task of identifying each grave and preserving the memory of so many who might otherwise be forgotten. They make this a place of beauty.

Of course the name "pioneer" fairly shouts at us with our passing under the arched entrance. The dictionary says that a "pioneer" is "one who goes before into that which is unknown or untried, to prepare the way for others as an early settler..."

Several things about this cemetery speak of the pioneering spirit. For example, there are all kinds of markers: fancy carved marble stones, old chiseled sandstones, small brass plates, homemade welded or concrete markers, cast bronze and old wooden crosses.
After all, a pioneer cemetery consists of individualists, rugged people who did things pretty much their own way. The variety of markers remind us of this, as does the fact that the graves are spread over the hillside.

They are not laid out in precise lines. Some of the oldest graves are on the periphery.
You might think they would begin at the center and work out from there, but it is not so.
After all, these pioneers loved solitude.hen they buried each other they were not buried too close, unless it was family.

Most of the folks who came to this country came to have room around them.

In this cemetery, one is struck by the lack of scripture, poetry, or epitaphs on the grave markers.Pioneers were people of few words, crisp and to the point.

In all this cemetery, when I last surveyed it, there is only one reference to a scripture verse. "The Lord is my shepherd."

Frontier people were not deeply religious people. I don't mean they were not spiritual.hey were simply too busy surviving to practice formalized religion and learn much scripture.

They certainly had faith, hope and love. If any group needed those qualities it was these, who ventured into the unknown, full of dreams and trusting God to keep common platitudes: Loved and missed by all; Forever in our hearts; A friend to all; Not lost but gone before; At rest; Blessed peace.

These gathered up the thoughts of pioneer families. One cowboy's grave shows him sitting beside his horse with the inscription, "Just Restin'."

One couple was married 53 years, born within a year of each other and died within a year of each other. Their grave is inscribed, "One day at a time."

Another word that strikes us here is history. Upon entering the gate, we find a large plat of the cemetery with the graves drawn to scale and names identified.
That chart calls forth the 126 years of history enshrined here. How we wish we could talk with these folks again, ask the questions we didn't have the sense to ask when they were alive. We think of the friends and loved ones we wish we could hold again, and share their dreams again.

The cemetery holds the history of the Rim Country; history is important because it gives us roots. It tells us who we are and why we are the way we are.
When I arrived at the graves of John and Mercedes Belluzzi and their family, my heart beat a little faster. The first land we ever owned was part of their Rim Trail homestead.'ve studied their history, and while their grandchildren would not own me, I still feel like part of their family.

The second mail-order bride of Isadore Christopher is buried here, Mary Hale Christopher. She not only braved the wilderness, but came to a husband whose house had recently been burned down by Apaches.

Her husband was a rough trapper who had already lost one mail-order bride. She could not take it and had returned east.

A raised grave at the center is surrounded by old red sandstones -- a monument to John Gray. He had come from Pennsylvania, but on July 4, 1892, he had too much whiskey and staggered down Main Street into the path of a running horse.e was killed.
Beside a relatively new fence that sets them apart are the graves of John and Henry Meadows, father and son. Their places were marked for years by simple brass plates in the ground, which carried the wrong dates of death.

Then in recent times a relative, Charlie Meadows from Kingman, provided formal headstones with the correct dates.oth father and son died from wounds sustained in an Apache attack on their Whispering Pines ranch (they called it Diamond Valley) in July 1882.

Sarah Bell Haught's marker simply says "Mammy."


The graves of John and Mercedes Belluzzi, about 1960.

The simple word hides her hardships. She moved from England to Texas as a child, married Henry Haught at 16, moved to Oklahoma with two babies, bore two more children there, then moved to Rim Country to follow their cousins Sam and Fred. On the long hard trip, with extended family accompanying them in the wagons, Mammy gave birth to another baby in a covered wagon somewhere in the mountains and came over the Rim before settling on Tonto Creek, which was then in Little Green Valley.

There is so much history wrapped up in that one name.

We cannot get far in our meditations without war raising its ugly head. On each Memorial Day the cemetery is ablaze with flags.

The markers reveal a few of the men who apparently fought in the Civil War, given their age and references to old company battalions. Otherserved in World War I. Others were born when World War I ended, and then fought in World War II.

Some fought and died in Viet Nam, some were in the Korean War.he history of America's wars is documented here as in every cemetery across the land.

First and foremost, cemeteries are names. name gathers so much life, hope, dreams, experience, sorrow, joy, tragedy, exaltation. The names all around us here are people: babies, mothers, wives, fathers, husbands, brother, sisters, extended family members, friends.

There is a baby here who died on the day it was born, and the parents had given the little one a name before carving into the marker, "Forever in our hearts."

Some names are impossible to read, because the old sandstone inscriptions fade with weathering. We find here pet names, nicknames, affectionate names by which people were called. We find families linked by marriage, lives intertwined reminding us how all our lives are connected.

We wish we knew all the stories connected to these names. "Press Nail -- died about 1915." "Bowen -- Forest Ranger."Unknown." "Dr. Dunlap."Hugh Sampson, An Old Man."

Then come the little ones. "Baby," or "campground Baby" and "beloved premature daughter -- lived twelve hours."

Some graves are adorned with mementos that apparently meant very much to them. Several matates and manos adorn one grave, horseshoes lie on several graves, a pair of dress up shoes sits on the grave of a six-year-old, windmills racing in the breeze decorate a two-year-old's grave.

A couple of graves have candles of prayer on them. Some still wait to come here since the name is in place with only the date of death left to be filled in.

I especially like the inscription "come home." Not "she went home," or "gone home," but "come home," as if calling for those who remain here. It reminds one of the great reunion in the Father's house.
Remember, this is the pioneer cemetery. Here are the people who paved the way for us.

They died of old age, Indian attacks, defending their country, in childbirth, of disease, foolish mistakes and noble causes. To call the names is to recall the great and less great: Haught, Pyle, Burch, Vogle, Pieper, Randall, Houston, Meadows, Taylor, Beard, Boardman, Fears, Childers, Goodfellows, Garrels, Belluzzi, Chilson, Pyaett, Hill, St. John, McDonald, Deming.

Each name brings pictures of the common life, of heroics, of bravery and courage.

We leave Payson Pioneer Cemetery reciting a collage of words taken from these grave stones like a benediction: May these beloved be "forever in our hearts." May you be "a friend to all," enabled by your faith to take "one day at a time." And "may the Lord bless and keep you forever," giving you "blessed peace" and a glorious reunion when you answer the invitation to "come home."


The grave of John Gray, who, upon imbibing too much on the Fourth of July, was run down by a horse on Main Street.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.